Tuesday, October 19

Bake Off and Beyond: The Unstoppable Rise of Crafty Reality Shows | TV

TThe X Factor finale was once considered the quintessential Christmas viewing, albeit high stakes one. But this year, instead of seeing Alexandra Burke sob on Beyoncé’s shoulder after the duet, we’ll see her perform Silent Night on the holiday edition of The Great British Bake Off, now an annual event on Channel 4, along with the edition of new Year. After the year we’ve had, watching former contestants compete in a spinoff contest that doesn’t really count feels like the right, tolerable level of excitement.

Since it was launched 10 years ago on BBC Two, Bake Off has been a healthy and welcome escape from the stress of the real world; you have felt particularly welcome this year. Okay: Bake Off – and its many successors and copycats – is now almost inevitable. In its wake, a host of baking contests have been commissioned, from Netflix’s Sugar Rush to Food Network’s Cake Wars, The Big Bake and the Holiday Baking Championship. Zumbo’s Just Desserts, a co-production of Seven Network in Australia and Netflix, is essentially the same but with confectionery, while Netflix’s Nailed It! it’s kind of a reverse bake off, with really crappy bakers going out of their way to win a cash prize.

It’s amazing not only how entertaining, but also how relaxing it can be to watch other people indulge in their hobbies. It is something of a hobby in itself. Bake Off’s great British uniqueness, combined with the soul relief that comes from watching bakers work, has been postulated as the antidote to frenetic American cooking shows where stress is the main ingredient. While reality shows have been a panacea for many, Bake Off is a panacea for those who want the escapism of the genre but can’t handle the drama.

Netflix nailed it!
‘Some kind of reverse Bake Off’ … Nailed! on Netflix. Photograph: Adam Rose / Netflix

Bake Off, with its international editions and junior version, does not, however, have a monopoly. Videos of people writing calligraphy, blowing glass, or displaying other skills often go viral; they are satisfying to see, as an unintended visual form of ASMR. The web is full of countless Bake Off-a-likes articles that you can enjoy. There are The Great Pottery Throw Down and The Great British Sewing Bee (both made for the BBC by Love Productions, the creator of Bake Off); The great fight of the flowers (Netflix); and The Great Interior Design Challenge and The Big Allotment Challenge (both from the BBC). Their similarities to Bake Off go beyond their names and amateur contestants.

These offerings are also getting more and more specific: Blown Away, a glass-blowing competition on Canadian channel Makeful and Netflix, probably never would have existed without Bake Off, and Netflix’s The American Barbecue Showdown, following the best competitive steakhouses. from USA

The rise of these types of shows has coincided with the disappearance of the other type of talent show: The X Factor’s audience ratings have dropped and attempts to bring the ITV franchise back to life through two special series that are aired last year, The X Factor. : Celebrity and The X Factor: The Band, led to their lowest grades. Despite offering a gentler approach to the music competition format and garnering positive response from critics, Little Mix: The Search it is said that he faces the ax after a series. While The Voice UK continues to hold on, it has failed to create a genuine star after more than eight years on the air.

Natasia Demetriou and Vic Reeves, the hosts of Netflix's The Big Flower Fight
Bloomin ‘wonderful … Natasia Demetriou and Vic Reeves, the hosts of Netflix’s The Big Flower Fight. Photography: Netflix

Television has progressed to showcase talent in a different way, one that makes art the focal point. While shows like Bake Off are competitive, most of the enjoyment lies in simply watching other people be good at the things they enjoy. Few of us can handle more stress right now, or the idea that runners-up might be slaughtered on top of a mountain during the ad break. With Bake Off-style shows, victories can be life-changing, but losing doesn’t come as an end to life.

Bake Off, and its successors, have been particularly heartwarming in 2020, a year in which the news has been impossible to watch but impossible to put out. Many of us have turned to baking as a non-toxic way to pass the time when Twitter gets too much. Watching people bake, or garden or make pottery, on television can feel just as pure. And, better yet, it doesn’t require any cleaning.


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